Nutritional needs and strategies for the spring calving season

Feb 14, 2022


ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Block Talk. Brought to you by CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements. An easy way to provide self-fed protein, trace minerals and vitamins in a low-moisture block supplement. Formulated for all types of feeding situations, from low-quality forages to fly control and everything in between. It all adds up to results by the barrel. I'm Tom Martin, and we're here today with Brayden Hawkins with CRYSTALYX Brand Supplements to talk about nutritional needs and strategies for the spring calving season. Thanks for joining us, Brayden.

BRAYDEN: Thanks for having me on, Tom. I’m glad to be back.

ANNOUNCER: So, Brayden, how can producers use body condition scoring to monitor their cattle heading into this calving season?

BRAYDEN: In my opinion, body condition scoring is a great metric to use year-round. And a lot of times, the last trimester of pregnancy gets overlooked a little bit. Coming off of weaning earlier in the fall, a lot of people kind of track that because that's typically when producers try to put on as much condition as they can, right after they wean those calves and the calves’ nutritional needs are the lowest. But in my opinion, heading into this last trimester, it's still really important to keep track of the condition of your cows. It’s a great way to gauge which cattle were the most deficient at putting on that condition when they were at their lowest needs nutritionally and then help producers track which cows and which genetics are the best fit for their environment and their current nutritional program. So, heading into calving, understanding that maybe you can't do as much to change the body condition, but still keeping track of it, is very important.

ANNOUNCER: How does body condition scoring, or BCS, at calving impact not only the performance of the cow, but also the calf she's carrying?

BRAYDEN: There’s been a lot of research done over the years on getting cattle in adequate body condition heading into calving. For mature cows, most people say that’s right around 5 BCS on a scale of 1–9. And then for first and second-calf heifers, I’m more comfortable saying about a 5.5–6 BCS. That extra condition just gives them a little extra boost when the stress and vigor of calving is a little harder on those younger cattle.

But looking at some of those numbers, simply by going from a 4 body condition to a 5, in some research done by Kunkle et al. in 1998, you’re looking at a 20% increase in pregnancy rates. You're looking at shortening the calving interval by almost a full heat cycle, not to mention you’re weaning heavier calves. Average daily gain is better. So pretty much every metric that we use in the cattle business to gauge profitability and performance is improved simply by having cattle calve out in an appropriate body condition.

Related article: Set up for success at calving and beyond: CRYSTALYX and Bio-Mos 2

ANNOUNCER: When that pregnant cow is moving into that final trimester, do her nutritional needs change and how do they change if they do?

BRAYDEN: That's a great question, Tom. You know, heading into that last trimester is when we see a significant upshift in the nutrient requirements for both the cow and the calf that she's carrying. So, typically, when you think about feeding cows, you're investing in a unit of protein and energy to add condition. Well, maybe that investment in a unit of protein and energy doesn’t go as far in adding condition, but it is crucial in supporting 70% of the fetal growth that that calf will go through in-utero, plus it will set that cow up for success in terms of being able to milk that calf when it hits the ground.

Typically, when we’re calving out in spring, it’s pretty cold still, and that rapidly growing calf can also increase the nutritional needs of that cow by up to 40% in those last 90 days. So, it’s awfully important to monitor that going into calving. And that's just the protein and the energy side. When I think of nutrition, I break it into two schools: macronutrients, protein and energy, and then you’re looking at your vitamins and minerals. And this could turn into a podcast alone on the importance of vitamins and minerals when it comes to the calving and milking abilities. And there's been a lot of research done that shows that having adequate storage of macrominerals, microminerals and vitamins impacts pretty much every reproductive trade out there. So, in my opinion, for 15–20 cents a day, having a solid mineral program is about the cheapest insurance a cow-calf producer could buy.

ANNOUNCER: Well, I think you just came up with a topic for our next podcast.

BRAYDEN: I think so.

ANNOUNCER: In the meantime, what are some other management practices that really help out in having a successful calving season?

BRAYDEN: Sure. So, we’ve talked a lot about nutrition so far, Tom. And you know, it makes up the largest investment in a cow-calf operation. And to get the most out of that investment, there are other things that need to be done. And so, a few things that I like to look at, especially for the guys calving out in confinement in the Midwest and places like that where it gets a lot colder than it does down south where I’m at in Texas, is the incidence of scours and just making sure that your calving facilities are clean and are set up in a way that makes them easy to clean. Scours are probably the leading cause of early calf death in our industry. And so, just making sure that your environment is free, or not necessarily free — I think that’s impossible — but as clear of pathogenic bacteria as possible is awfully important.

A few other things are, I think having good lighting where you’re calving is worth its weight in gold, plus just making sure you’re not being reactive when it comes to making sure your equipment, like your chains and your calf pullers and everything else, are in good working shape prior to actually starting calving. And one side note, Tom, if you don’t mind, is that sometimes I think the bullpen gets overlooked at this time of year when we start calving out. But I think it’s important to note that semen takes about 60 days to fully develop. So, how we’re managing our bull nutrition right around the time of calving is really going to impact their semen quality when it comes time to start breeding cows again.

ANNOUNCER: Well, how can CRYSTALYX help get your cows ready for the calving season?

BRAYDEN: Like we’ve kind of talked about, prepping for calving season isn’t a small task by any means. So, just having the convenience of a self-fed supplement like CRYSTALYX can take some of that stress away by constantly providing a consistent and cost-effective delivery of high-quality nutrition. As we talked about in detail earlier, protein, energy, vitamins and minerals are all crucial to making sure the cow and the calf that she’s carrying are set up for success when it does come time to calf. And products like our Blueprint® 30% check all those boxes. It’s got a 100% organic trace minerals pack with Alltech Bioplex®, plus added protein that just stretches your forage out. So, you can kind of kill two or three birds with one stone, for lack of a better analogy, Tom.

ANNOUNCER: All right. That’s Brayden Hawkins with CRYSTALYX Brand Supplements. We thank you, Brayden.

BRAYDEN: I sure appreciate you having me on, and I look forward to the next time.

ANNOUNCER: And I'm Tom Martin. Thank you for listening. Thank you for joining us for the Block Talk podcast. Learn more about all that CRYSTALYX has to offer by going to It all adds up to results by the barrel.


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